Friend, fellow Massachusetts native and regular commenter Jack Crane has worked on Chicago’s South Side for many years. Here’s what he had to say in response to my post about Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s new film, The Interrupters:
Yo Jeff, I figured you and the Mrs. were drunk on emptynesterhood and hiding out in some Maine cabin for the rest of the summer!
I just got back from a week in the Door County woods with the grandsons and son. Rested, and feeling good about living on a s’more diet and camp songs, why did I read your blog about the Interrupters this morning! Well, one way of getting right back to the work front!
I was recently at a South Side community activists meeting to discuss ways to attract more retail business in the Bronzeville neighborhood. I stated flat out that we needed to address the yes, epidemic, violence in the neighborhood. Several colleagues countered me by talking about the need to distinguish between “perceived” violence and actual violence. As soon as I heard the word perceived, I loosened my tie and tongue. “Would anybody in this room walk down 47th Street from the Dan Ryan to Lake Park Ave and not fear for their life?,” I asked. There was a long, silent pause in the room. “If there is a murder in Evanston, which certainly has gang issues, the entire community is all over the tragedy. Why do we state ‘perceived” violence, when kids are in fact shooting, robbing and killing each other almost daily on the South Side? Why do we tolerate even one shooting?”
Having spent my career working in Chicago’s South Side, and currently housed in the most violent police beat, I must say I am deeply discouraged by what I perceive as the complete abandonment of low income, minority neighborhoods by the mostly white, affluent power brokers. Sure, there is a steady handful of courageous community activists, including the CeaseFire trio in the documentary, doing amazing work – but most eventually burn out as the chaos breaks down their hearts and souls.
My own hunch is that not a few charismatic nuts will soon organize the growing disenfranchised, and horrific violence will be pitched in the manicured North Shore lawns. The pot is well beyond the boiling point (7 teens arrested last night for mob action, robbery and beating and 18 year old in Chinatown) in my estimation.
To end on a positive note, there are not a few activists, mostly quite young, who recognize that despite President Obama’s good nature and intelligence, he is very much a part of an America which no longer makes any common sense really. So they are turning in new directions, exploring alternative ways to discover and create beauty, justice, compassion. They give me much hope, and I enjoy breathing in their refreshing breeze.